Internet Assassins: Deciphering Their World

 Michael Roberts

On different occasions friends have indicated that I should not bother to address personalized and vituperative attacks. In this instance I am disregarding this well-meant advice. For one the instances I am addressing are those arising from an essay in Colombo Telegraph which was inspired by Bill Deutrom’s observation that my analysis in another article “[would] not convince people who have already made up their mind based on emotion, ethnicity or with a hatred for Rajapaksa.”

Several of the comments provide ample evidence for Bill’s summing up. But we can decipher them more closely to read the lines of thought driving some of these individuals (mostly guys). That is my inquiry here – deciphering hardcore prejudice in what is necessarily a conjectural manner. I stress that I am addressing the Colombo Telegraph comments that reached the world up to 16th December (Dayan Jayatilleka’s note being the last embraced — one not pertinent to this essay).[1]


Vanderpoorten  Sankaralingam

Two blokes, Emil Vanderpoorten and Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam, are “serial killers”: that is, they have killed Michael Roberts by word via ad hominem assaults on several occasions before within Colombo Telegraph. They continue to brand me a Sinhala sycophant and a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa. “Ruhunu Cousin” joins this band by alluding to another assassin named Laksiri Fernando, a scholar who has consistently resorted to this branding work in the same outlet as well as the Island and internet sites.[2] As researchers with some investigative writing behind them, I have yet to be convinced that Fernando and Vanderpoorten have read those articles in which I address the character of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political activity.[3] 

In other words, they are investigators who fail to study the pertinent literature and viciously steam into the fray half-cocked (a metaphor I use deliberately). As far as I can see, their characterizations are based on incomplete work and guided by “a hatred of Rajapaksa” – so that, as it seems, anyone who has supported the Rajapaksa government’s efforts to combat the LTTE in 2006-09 is deemed a “Sinhala chauvinist.” In brief, they provide stark support for Bill Deutrom’s appraisal about the poisonous characterizations bedevilling the Sri Lankan political scenario.

Other assassins, as well as Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam (but not Vanderpoorten), also shore up their assault by alluding to my supposed ethnic origins as a “hybrid” (true) and “Burgher” (incorrect). So, I need not say more: these blokes condemn themselves. “Ruhunu Cousin” even concludes that it is my Burgher background that has led me to be more Sinhalese than the Sinhalese.

These personalized, racist lines of denigration draw fire from another commentator who indicates that he is critical of both the Ranil/Ravi camp and the Maithri/Mahinda camp. Though his comments are reasonable enough, alas, he chooses to write as “Sinhala Buddhist” and thereby (inadvertently) supports one of the lines of disparagement adopted by Sankaralingm et al.[4]

Sharmini Serasinghe is in a different category. I have recently included one of her articles in defence of the Ranil camp within Thuppahi and my reflections on Deutrom’s reading led me to refer to her and Shyamon Jayasinghe as examples of pro-UNP stalwarts (a straightforward description with no disparagement intended).[5] Serasinghe deems this to be an insult. She goes beyond: she cites words she has deployed in a private email to me as weapons of castigation dumped on me for a “cheap shot.”

This is an amazing revelation. These words were in her email to me – denigration which I did not disclose to anyone, let alone Dayan J and Vinod M.[6] But Serasinghe tells everyone: “I know you are mad with me because I told you that I don’t take your ‘friends’ – Vinod Moonesinghe and Dayan Jayatilleka – seriously as they are both stark raving mad. Cheap shot, Michael Roberts.” Serasinghe needs to look at herself in the mirror and reflect on whether her enthusiastic campaign for the Ranil-plus-Democracy camp[7] overflows into voluble excesses that display the emptiness within her ears to the whole world.

The most striking data in this body of commentary, however, comes from the Tamils: Siva Sankaran Sharma, Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam[8] and Kettikaran. SS Sharma provides readers with a fabulous history that can match the fabulous histories fashioned by contemporary Sinhalese ‘intellectuals’ of the hela urumaya school of thought. He asserts that “the north east and the north west coast have from ancient times been Tamil country and Sinhalese Buddhist Fascists like you never had a peep into these lands until 1948.”

This is a confident re-affirmation of the map drawn by the LTTE which extends along the north-western coast to Chilaw/Negombo.[9] It wipes out the considerable historical evidence for the existence of Sinhala kingdoms in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva from the 3rd century BC to the 13th century AD. Sharma then puts the foot in by accusing the “Sinhalese Buddhist Fascists and their Burgher and other supporters living in the island and other parts of the world” of pursuing a programme of “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing on the island’s Tamils” – to the point where the Tamils will be destroyed as a people.

The issue here is simple: are people such as SS Sharma, Dr Sankaralingam et el nut cases or do they represent  numerically significant strands  of thinking among Tamils of the diaspora and island? And if the latter how strong are these strands? My conjecture leans towards the tentative notion that the are not isolated cranks, but represent lines of thinking that are not miniscule, though I am in no position to estimate the weight of strand.

The existence of such interpretations must be embraced and investigated by scholarly research. It would, for example, be useful if a researcher can build up a picture of Dr, Gnana Sankaralingam’s lines of thought from the various interjections he has essayed in the social media over the years.

To my mind, Kettikaran’s note is the most significant tale within the whole body of comments in Colombo Telegraph. I accept Kettikaran’s claim that he is not pro-Tiger: after all, he condemns them for “commit[ing] gruesome killings and destroy[ing] hundreds of innocent Tamils.” However, he then proceeds to make several bizarre assessments as challenges to my presentation:

(A) asserting that [Roberts] must surely know that “Kadirgamar was not killed by the LTTE;”[10]

(B) while inquiring whether Neelan Tiruchelvam’s assassin was a woman (as I claimed erroneously[11]) and then reiterating the obvious: that killing was “a political assassination.”

Neelan and assassin in Death’s Grip

These comments lead Kettikaran to a slashing criticism of my writings for not “sympathi[zing] even in passing with the Tamil struggle against enormous State-inspired discrimination including that of wholesale theft of their agricultural land [and] the fishing opportunities” and for failing to deal “adequately with the many pogroms against the Tamil Nation – 1958, 1977, 1981, 1983, 2009 – and many in between.”

This litany is significant because it embodies an unshakeable belief in the controversial Tamil homelands thesis — even though that set of arguments has been effectively questioned and modified by Gerald Peiris.[12] However, another significant dimension of this tirade is the outsize failure it reveals: which of Michael Roberts’ many articles has Kettikaran read? Or rather: what has he not read?

Clearly, he is totally unaware of a literary piece – a protest from the heart rather than a careful ethnographic study — entitled “The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1983” which appeared first in 1994, but has also been reprinted in Sri Lanka in Nethra 2003.

aa-Killing joy This Pic of a thug assaulting a Tamil at Borella Jct on the 24/25th night 1983 was taken from Tamil Times and included in my 19994 article. I later got a better version from C. Amarasinghe the cameraman.

That outsize act of ignorance does surprise me a trifle. However, I am not surprised that Kettikaran is blissfully unaware of (a) my academic articles from the 1970s to 2000s; and the fact that in these essays (b) I have consistently referred to “nationalisms” in Sri Lanka in ways that denote Tamil sentiments as those of a nationality alongside the nationalist collectives “Sinhalese” and “Ceylonese;” so that (c) one article in 1979 is even entitled “Problems of Collective Identity in a Multi-Ethnic Society; Sectional Nationalism vs Ceylonese Nationalism, 1900-1940.I also stress that (d) I have never, ever, referred to the LTTE as “terrorists” (even though specific attacks in Colombo, say, may have been described as “terrorist acts”).

My essays on these topics are located within academic journals that may not be easily accessed by surfers on the web, though one must qualify this by observing that several can be found within books published in Sri Lanka and should therefore be accessible to serious investigators and local journalists. That an individual with journalist credentials such as Emil Vanderpoorten remains within a dungeon of his own choosing is, therefore, a puzzle.

Kettikaran’s limited compass highlights what seems to be a major problem in this era of news dissemination via social media, with its associated body of cut-and-thrust commentary. Where conclusions are derived from this helter-skelter medley of voices, we are burdened with the Trump-Tweet phenomenon. Excesses multiply. Hard opinions proliferate. For Sri Lanka, in the island and beyond the island. the Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim-Moor extremisms feed off each other. Sinnappah Arasaratnam identified the deadly effects of this process in an essay in 1967: these forms of virulence at the poles existed from way back in the colonial era and fed off each other.[13]

Today, the vigour of social media sharpens the blades and spreads the bile voiced by politicians on the ground among a wider clientele. In the assassins within Colombo Telegraph, we see proof of this incendiary pottage. The overall message is depressing. Pirapāharan will be smiling.

***  ***


 A = Roberts on Mahinda Rajapaksa and Populist Processes

2009 “Some Pillars for Lanka’s Future,” Frontline, 19 June 2009, 26: 24-27 ….

2009 “The Rajapaksa Regime and the Fourth Estate,” 9 December 2009,

2009 “Sinhala Mindset,” 9 Dec. 2009,

2009 “The Rajapaksa Regime: Brickbats, Plaudits,” 17 December 2009,

 2010 Challenges Today: Weevils of the Mind,” 26 May 2010,

2010 “Intolerance: Hues and Issues,” Nethra Review, 11/2, December 2010, pp. 20-21.

2011 “Populist Politics and the Sooriyawewa & Premadasa Stadiums,” 26 September 2011,

2011 “Mixed Messages and Bland Oversimplification in President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech,” 11 February 2013,

2012 “Mahinda Rajapaksa as a Modern Mahāvāsala and Font of Clemency? The Roots of Populist Authoritarianism,” 25 January 2012, …. Reproduced in my web site with another title: “Mahinda Rajapaksa: Cakravarti Imagery and Populist Processes,” 28 January 2012

2012 “Populism and Sinhala-Kingship in the Rajapaksa Regime’s Political Pitch,” 29 January 2012, … since republished in Asanga Welikala (ed.) Reforming Sri Lankan Presidentialism, Colombo, Globe Printing Works, chap 17.642-55.

2014 “Ideological Cancers within the Sinhala Universe: Roadblocks in the Path of Reconciliation,” Groundviews, 10 May 2014,  AND

2016 Where Majoritarian Part subsumes the Whole: The Ideological Foundation of Sinhala Extremism,” 28 July 2016,

B =Roberts on Nationalisms

1978 “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation,” Modern Asian Studies, 12: 353-76 [reprinted in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, 1994].

1977 “Elites, nationalisms and the nationalist movement in British Ceylon,” in M. Roberts (ed.), Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and nationalist politics in Ceylon, 1929-1950, vol. 1, Colombo: Department of National Archives, pp. xxv-ccxxii.

1979 “Meanderings in the pathways of collective identity and nationalism,” in M Roberts (ed.) Collective identities, nationalisms and protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Institute, pp. 1-96.

1979 “Stimulants and Ingredients in the Awakening of Latter-Day Nationalisms”, in Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Publications, pp. 214-42.

1979 “Problems of Collective Identity in a Multi-Ethnic Society; Sectional Nationalism vs Ceylonese Nationalism, 1900-1940,” in M Roberts (ed.) Collective identities, nationalisms and protest in Modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Institute, pp. 337-6

1985    “Ethnicity in Riposte at a Cricket Match: The Past for the Present”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 27: 401-429.

1993a  “Nationalism, the Past and the Present: the Case of Sri Lanka,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 16: 133-161.

1994 Exploring Confrontation. Sri Lanka: Politics, Culture and History Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.

1994a “The Asokan Persona and its Reproduction in Modern Times,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 73-88.

1994 “Four Twentieth Century Texts and the Asokan Persona,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 57-72.

1994 “The 1956 Generations: After and Before,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 297-314.

1994 “The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1973,” in Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 317-27.

2000  “Nationalisms Today and Yesterday”, in Gerald Peiris and S W R de A Samarasinghe (eds) History and Politics. Millennial Perspectives. Essays in honour of Kingsley de Silva, Colombo: Law and Society Trust, pp. 23-44.

2000 “Lanka without Vijaya…. Toward the New Millennium,” Lanka Monthly Digest, Special Millennium Issue, 27 January 2000.

2001 “Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism,” in G. Gunatilleke et al (eds.): A History of Ethnic Conflictin Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation and Reconciliation, Colombo: Marga Monograph Series, No 4.

2001 “The burden of history: obstacles to power sharing in Sri Lanka”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, n. s., May 2001, 35: 65-96.

2001 Primordialist strands in contemporary Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur (Vol. 20). Colombo: Marga Institute.

2011 “The Vocabulary of ‘nation’ in English in the Early Modern Period,” 10 July 2011,

 2003 “The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1973,” Nēthra, 6: 199-213.

2004 Narrating Tamil Nationalism. Subjectivities & Issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications [a review essay reprinted from South Asia, 2004.

2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association, No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

2009 Confrontations in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, LTTE and Others¸ Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

2010 Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

2011 “The Tamil Death Toll in Early 2009: A Misleading Count by Rohan Gunaratna,” 23 November 2011,

2012 “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking,” Colombo Telegraph, 12 February 2012, http://thuppahi.… rep. in TPS: Essays, 2014: 69-89.

2012 “Velupillai Pirapaharan: Veera Maranam,” 26 November 2012,

2018 Sri Lanka’s Deep Divisions: A Visiting Burgher’s Insights,” 15 December 2018,


Arasaratnam, Sinnappah 1967 “Nationalism, Communalism and National Unity in Ceylon,” in Philip Mason (ed.) India and Ceylon: Unity and Diversity, Oxford University Press, pp. 260-78.

Dugger, Celia W. 1999 “A Leading Sri Lankan Moderate is Killed,” New York Times, 30 July 1999,

Fernando, Laksiri 2014 “Michael Roberts as An Apologist for Sinhala Nationalism/Chauvinis26 February 2014

Gunasekera, Lakshman 2007 “Second Death Anniversary of Sivaram [Tharaki],” 21 June 2007, …. includes a highly pertinent study of Sinhala chauvinist forces.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 1999 “Tiruchelvam, Tigers and the Tamil “Traitor” Tragedy,” 31 July 1999,

Peiris, Gerald H. 1991 “An Appraisal of the Concept of the Traditional Homeland,” Ethnic Studies Report, vol. 9: 13-39.

Peiris, Gerald H. 2013 “An Appraisal of the Concept of the Traditional Homeland,” 26 April 2013,

Serasinghe, Sharmini 2018 “Sharmini’s Appeal: Stand up for Democracy on December 6th,” 1 December 2018,

   *** ***


[1] I commenced drafting this article on the 16th December 2018, but its completion has been delayed.

[2] See Fernando 2014 for one sample.

[3] See the extensive list – adding up to twelve (12) articles — which I have presented below. A few of these items appeared within Groundviews or Colombo Telegraph, so I am bemused by the failure of these verbal snipers to consider the works and their implications.

[4] I suspect that this individual may have been attempting to demonstrate that he was not a Mahinda Rajapaksa camp follower though he was a Sinhalese who was Buddhist. Fair enough but ….

[5] Jayasinghe was placed in this pro-UNP camp on the foundation of his comments in an email exchange collective where a vibrant debate was taking place –a collective whose emails reached me (a non-participant).

[6] I have never met Vinod Moonesinghe and he came into my email circuit at some point this year 2018. I have known Dayan for around 48 years and been ranged against him in measured debate a some moments; though we are now in more amenable arenas of assessment.

[7] Note that in late December she has launched a campaign for Democracy via Facebook and other engines.

[8] When a young Tamil presented a reflective commemoration of Neelan’s killing recently in the Colombo Telegraph, Gnana had this to say: “Neelan Thiruchelvam was known to me being three years senior to me in school. He with good intention co-authored the constitutional reforms with Prof. Gamini Peiris and Chandrika Kumaratunga. By doing this he put his neck braving the attack of LTTE. After the proposal was thrown out by Parliament, even after watering down by Chandrika and Peris, Neelan told me that he was disappointed that the other two had let him down and if he had a slightest suspicicion that they will do that, he would have not agreed to draft the proposal with them. Ultimately he lost his life and both Chandrika and Peris have enjoyed the fruits of that betrayal. It is sad that when Neelan was beginging to realise his folly and be useful to counter Sihala racism, LTTE killed him.” There seem to be some interesting twists on the events of 1999 which those familiar with the events should address.

[9] I am tempted to remind readers of emerging nationalist forces of a fascist character who embarked on programmes of political expansion that were blatantly imperialist: viz, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Mussolini’s Italy.

[10] In Wikipedia Kadirgamar’s death is reported thus: “On 12 August 2005, around 2300 (UTC+6), Kadirgamar was shot by an LTTE sniper[citation needed] in Colombo as he was getting out of the swimming pool at his private residence in Cinnamon Gardens. Early reports indicate he was shot twice in the head, once in the neck, and once in the body.” I add that the sniper was located in an upstairs room in the middle-class mansion next door – that of a Royalist named Thalayasingham who is said to have been prone to drink. Speculation clams that the servants had been turned or fooled by the LTTE hit-team. It is clear that the security arrangements were terrible; but it is also known that Kadirgamar was stubbornly uncooperative towards this task. One must beware of the theories presented about this killing in the local media. A whisper from a Tamil in Sydney in early 2005 indicated that the LTTE needed Kadirgamar out of the way before resuming war. That logic, to me, is conclusive – a conclusive conjecture.

[11]  The photograph of the mangled remains led me to assume that the assassin was a woman. Mohamed Mowzil, an ICES officer located near the scene of the killing, confirmed (by email today (28th Dec. 2018) that the suicide bomber was a man.

[12] See Peiris 1991 which has been made available in Thuppahi from 2013 —

[13] See Arasaratnam, “Nationalism, Communalism and National Unity in Ceylon,” in Philip Mason, 1967. Lakshman Gunasekara’s study (2007) of what he terms “Sinhala supremacist” strands of thinking/action is of relevance here.


Filed under accountability, communal relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, ethnicity, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, language policies, life stories, LTTE, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, Tamil civilians, Tamil migration, tamil refugees, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, violence of language, world events & processes

9 responses to “Internet Assassins: Deciphering Their World

  1. Jehan

    The platform Colombo Telegraph (the Tamilnet minus the venom) is a well know Anti Rajapaksa and in many occasions sinhalese site. Its faceless and nameless articles based on creative opinion rather than factual news attracts the remnants of the word wide eelam computer warriors. They hardly report on the Good Work carried out by the Government in the North general and the nation in particular, or report on the few extremist politicians in the north. Its always the sinhalese and government that needs to be blamed, and any person actually exposing the facts is branded a sinhalese racist nationalist.

  2. Hi, Michael,

    What a pity you haven’t provided links in your piece to the original articles by Jayatilleke, Moonesinghe et al. that provoked it. The uninformed reader (i.e. me) is left with the impression of an angry man howling into the wind, and wonders what all the noise is about.

    You are an academic and a critical thinker. The people you have taken to task in your admirable philippic are – at best – journalists. Hardly worthy of your ire. You should save your ammunition for more deserving targets.

    The whole world now knows what Dayan Jayatilleke is. Such people are best ignored, don’t you think? To pay them attention only encourages them.

    As for dear Vinodh, he is a harmless crank with delusions of ethnicity.

    As for Emil van der Poorten – Uncle Emil, as he is to me, a very old family friend who grew up with my late father – he has always been a man of the Left though never of the resentful, roll-on-the-tumbrils variety. A former journalist and labour organizer in Canada, he is now retired and doing his best to survive on the fifty acres or so of more or less vertical hillside which is all that is left to him of the vast estates owned by his father and grandfather. He ekes out his income with the odd article in the Island and elsewhere; hardly what one would call an ‘internet assassin’.

    You two should meet; you’ll like each other. If you are both agreeable, I can arrange a match, and act as referee.

    All the best as ever,

    • malik

      Dear Richard Simon,

      ‘The whole world now knows what Dayan Jayatilleke is’

      Would you please enumerate what is Dayan Jayatilleke ? as many of us in the world seem to be in the dark of the very loose statement you have made. One cannot simply share the views of Uncle Emil, The poor Leftist with a princely fifty acres property with out reason and justification

    • Dear Richard … dear Richard … Dear Richard … This essay began with a hyperlink to the piece inspired by Bill Deutrom ‘s comment — this REFERENCE =…. Which wd have led to the BROADER CONTEXT.

      But how vital is all that? My focus in INTERNET ASSASSINS is on the “content” of the Col-Tel remarks which are then quoted in adequate fullness. You are seeking the WOOD
      rather than the SPECIFICITIES of the TREES. The specific “TREES” displayed by three Tamil assassins were then embraced in a
      Broader thrust at the end which deployed an eminent Tamil scholar (1967) to make a general point about S, T and Muslim Moor extremisms feeding off each other …. [and, to add, getting more frenzied over time].

      In THAT concluding argument I was broadening the context to the period 1920-2010s …. And I ended laconically by observing that such processes of “KILL” and “COUNTER-KILL”
      would have the god Pirapaharan smiling. “Smiling” because the exacerbation of the ethnic conflict is just what his guiding gods ordered.

      Because laconic my message may be misinterpreted … as indeed it was by one Sinhala guy on Facebook. To make the message clear let my stress that such campaigns as SINHA-LE agitation and responses to local affrays of the type that occurred at Digane and Alutgama recently only assist Tamil extremists such as SS Sharma, the [self-esteemed] Dr Sankaralingam and Kettikaran to boost their varied excesses.

  3. Vinod Moonesinghe

    The best way to avoid a rigorous and reasoned debate is to label your opponent “insane”, “crazy”, “delusional”, and so on. The way of the intellectual coward is character assassination, not debate about principle. It gives witness to a profound anti-democratic, anti-demos nature.

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